Ari Halper is an advertising creative director.
A very creative director. He developed the E*Trade Baby, made a short film with Ron Howard that shortlisted at the Oscars, and won an Emmy for his work on Canon. These days, the Westporter heads his own creative consultancy, Sauce.
Halper’s daughter Reya sure inherited his creative genes.
Last year at Christmas, the Saugatuck Elementary School student picked up their black goldendoodle’s paw. Reya began singing: “Feliz Navidog.”
Halper asked about her take on our Weston neighbor Jose Feliciano’s lovable holiday anthem. “That’s Santa’s dog,” Reya replied.
The creative director’s creative brain kicked in. Reya loves to read! What a great idea for a children’s book!
Most people would leave it there. Halper — and his daughter — are not most people.
Over the next several weeks they wrote several drafts. It was fun. And, they realized, they had a salable product.
As they searched for a publisher — and Halper stresses this was a collaborative effort, with Reya providing plenty of input — they realized how big and unwieldy the children’s book world is.
They eventually discovered a children’s self-publishing group. The control and speed of that option appealed to them. Halper went to a writer’s workshop, educating himself on the ins and outs (aka the challenges and perils) of self-publishing.
There were many.
One was finding help. They found one through Reedsy, an online site matching authors with professionals.
“She was great,” Halper reports. “I wanted the book to be very Dr. Seuss-ish. Anapestic tetrameter is very regimented. She really held me to meter.”
The next task was finding an illustrator. Halper and Reyna settled on a woman who clearly understood the concept.
She lives in Mumbai. Fortunately, the internet shrinks the world. Unfortunately, the time difference made their collaboration less than instantaneous.
In July — just as the project neared its end — someone asked Halper if Rudolph was in the public domain. The world-famous reindeer was a central character in “Feliz Navidog.”
Turns out there are still 7 years left in Rudolph’s copyright. Turns out also though that Rudolph’s management is controlled by Character Arts. The company is based right next door in Wilton.
Aha! Halper thought. What an in!
He told them his tale. It was the middle of the pandemic; people were looking for a feel-good story. He added some personal details. How about licensing the rights to Rudolph?
Halper got “a categorial ‘no.'”
Christmas was coming (at least, in the book publishing world). What to do?
Fortunately, every other character in the book — Santa, Mrs. Claus, the 8 non-Rudolph reindeer — are all fair game.
Halper and Reya devised a new hook. They rewrote the book. The illustrator redid 10 of the book’s 40 pages. Just like Rudolph’s guided sleigh ride, everything worked out in the end.
Of course, it still was not easy. Normally a book like this would be printed overseas. But COVID complicated matters. Printing was done in the US — at a higher cost.
The hardcover version should be available any day. The paperback and e-book versions are live now, on Amazon.
Oh, yeah: The plot. It’s Christmas, and Pittsburgh is covered in a terrible fog. Even worse, the reindeer all get sick and can’t fly. When all hope seems lost, Feliz Navidog — Santa’s pet — raises his paw to help.
The book’s lesson is all about overcoming obstacles. The father-daughter author team sure did.
Here’s wishing them much success.
And, of course, Feliz Navidad.